Paris Attacks and Problematic Reactions

Immediately after I heard the news of Paris attack, I tried contacting a French friend of mine who had studied with me at Cornell. I was able to verify that she was safe. However, I could tell she was shaken by the trauma. She told me that her apartment was pretty close to Bataclan, the theatre where most of the causalities took place and she had personally witnessed many dead bodies.

I was grateful to find that she was alive and well but at the same time, my heart was crying for the French, as I vividly recalled that France was one of the countries which had been at the forefront of opposing the ill-fated U.S. decision to attack Iraq. If anything, France had made the right choice back then and had also warned the U.S. and the UK of the possible repercussions of that misadventure.

If anything this fact makes this attack even more disgusting and utterly condemnable. Attacking civilians is always shameful and cowardly but given the fact that French had actually taken a principled stance back then makes it even more reprehensible and shameful.

Incidents like these should evoke a unity in condemnation and yet strangely I have largely witnessed a strange disparity largely along the lines of identity differences. The reaction by and large has either been xenophobic or has assumed the form of apologetic defense depending whether you are a Muslim or not.

Broadly speaking on electronic and social media there has been wide scale condemnation of the act by non Muslims which unfortunately in some cases has also morphed into outright xenophobia as some are equating literally billions of Muslims with ISIS ideology.

On the other hand a sizeable majority of the Muslims (and some liberals also) instead of condemning this shameless act have blamed the West of showing "selective" outrage. As usual a substantial number of Muslims are in strange kind of a denial and instead of condemning these attacks are more focused to prove that West is hypocritical as it does not show "same kind of reaction" when Muslims themselves are victims of terrorism. Similarly some of people have also developed a tendency of coming up with shameless apologetic defense whenever such a criminal act is perpetuated by Islamic militants.

I have severe problems with both of these reactions.

Those who are trying to judge all Muslims through ISIS ideology are conveniently forgetting that Muslims too have been victims of ISIS. In fact before Paris, ISIS had targeted Ankara and Beirut also. In Iraq and Syria, ISIS has been murdering Muslims for the past one and a half years. Further this kind of stereotyping and generalization ( which equates majority of Muslims with ISIS) completely overlooks the fact that Islam is not a monolithic religion and nor are its followers, a fact which is confirmed by ISIS targeting of anyone who does not fall into their definition of a "Muslim."

Secondly, some are claiming that Muslim desire to have Sharia law proves that a majority of Muslims are like ISIS. There is a huge problem with this over-simplistic analogy because even if desire for a Sharia rule is "common" between Muslims and ISIS, it does not mean that the former endorse the latter's terrorist acts, particularly when they are themselves victims of that.

I personally think that people like Bill Maher are correct to be critical of Muslim desire to have harsh forms of Sharia as some of its tenets are clearly in contradiction of the modern day ideals. However, to equate the support for Sharia among ordinary Muslims with support for ISIS is incorrect and in fact misleading.

ISIS by no stretch of imagination is a popular organization and it is fear rather than popularity which explains its stranglehold over the local population in areas under its control. Their control is not essentially showing that people support their ideology. For that matter as ISIS tries to expand into Europe there is no basis for the assumption that it has substantial support among Muslims living there also. It is a fringe organization which has even been condemned by other terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda for its excesses.

Another factor which has to be born in mind that for many Muslims although religion is extremely important but at the same time it is mainly their connection to God and a way to achieve inner peace. To simply assume that they espouse the extremist ideas of violent organizations like ISIS which is trying to achieve political and material objectives is erroneous.

Even while examining the rise of ISIS we have to bear in mind that while it is correct to attribute extreme form of Islamic interpretation as one of the factors behind the rise of ISIS but it is by no stretch of imagination the only factor. Terrorist organizations like ISIS arise out of interaction between ideology and several domestic as well as international factors. ISIS has arisen out of the way events have unfolded after Iraq war and Arab spring. It is the power vacuum and erosion of state's writ in countries like Syria, Iraq and Libya which has given genesis to a phenomenon like ISIS.

Just as some of the reactions in West are often over-simplistic, the reactions in the Muslim world are unfortunately not admirable either. As mentioned earlier that the response by some of the Muslims is muted and instead of outright condemnation, it is focused more on blaming the West for the "selective" outrage. Likewise some are as usual trying to deflect the issue of such form of radicalism and trivializing it by pointing to some atrocities of the West.

Deflection rather than honest introspection has become a regular habit for many of us. What we as Muslims need to understand is that if we do not want the world to identify us with the militants, we need to condemn such incidences wholeheartedly rather than trying to deflect and offering apologetic defense.

Likewise blaming the West for so called selective outrage is not correct because it is natural that Western media will cover more when the tragedy hits home. Moreover France is a non-Muslim country attacked by Muslim extremists and it is natural that the media coverage will reflect this fact.

The question which we as Muslims should be pondering is NOT whether Facebook is only giving option for making French flag as a filter for profile pictures but rather as to why most of the terrorists happen to be Muslims.

We as Muslims need to self introspect and we need to condemn such incidences without ifs and buts and drawing false analogies.

At this juncture the West and the Muslim world need to work together because organizations like ISIS are our common enemy as they have targeted both of us.